Khabib Nurmagomedov was put in a difficult position ahead of UFC 205 in New York City.
The undefeated lightweight was hoping to be fighting Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt. UFC president Dana White even tweeted about the potential matchup while the event still was being planned. But Nurmagomedov was passed over for a superfight between Alvarez and featherweight champion Conor McGregor for the UFC’s first show at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
When that didn’t happen, Nurmagomedov said the UFC asked him to wait on the sideline in case one of the main event fighters was injured and a replacement was needed.
“UFC asked me about this, and I said no,” the Russian fighter said Wednesday at UFC 205 media day. “I don’t like this situation, I never put myself like this where I’m waiting for somebody to get injured, this is [expletive].”
Nurmagomedov, who spent nearly two years out of action with his own injuries between 2014 and 2016, said waiting to be a replacement was never of interest to him.
“I don’t like this, I’d never do this. They say we’ll give you money, stay focused, stay training, stay on your training camp and if somebody is injured you come and change,” Nurmagomedov said. “I said no, I want to fight, please give me a fight.”
“The Eagle” received his wish with a bout against Michael Johnson at UFC 205. Johnson, the No. 6-ranked fighter, said he’s wanted to fight Nurmagomedov for the last few years. Once Alvarez-McGregor was booked, Johnson put his name out there.
“I’ve been pushing for this fight for a while,” Johnson said. “I asked to fight him like two years ago, I called him out and he made some comment about, ‘Oh, I’m not good enough’ or ‘When I get to the top, then he’ll fight me.’ Well, I’m at the top so now he has to deal with me.”
Johnson (18-10, 9-6 UFC) last fought in September, beating Dustin Poirier by first-round knockout. He might not have been the man Nurmagomedov (23-0, 7-0) wanted, but the sambo specialist isn’t treating Johnson like a random replacement fighter.
“I think he’s not bad, I respect him, he’s a good guy,” Nurmagomedov said. “He already beat [Edson] Barboza, he already knocked out Dustin Poirier, Gleison Tibau, Tony Ferguson. He beat a lot of tough guys, and I have to respect this.”
With that résumé, Johnson believes he can earn his first UFC championship fight if things go his way on Saturday.
“It just depends on how I win,” Johnson said. “If I go out there and have a dominant performance, a dominant knockout, it definitely puts me next in line for a title shot.”
Nurmagomedov is confident in his odds at a title fight, but not so much about Johnson’s chances.
“If I win, I hope I get it,” Nurmagomedov said. “But if Michael Johnson wins, maybe no, but maybe yes, but nobody knows.”